Marie Antoinette

by Ed Wilson

Image for cover of Ed Wilson's book Marie Antoinette

And suddenly there's music. Not music in a little box spilling out into my room. Not music smearing out of a shop doorway, that you can walk through and get out the other side without having to think about it. Music that somebody is playing right next to you. Live. A piano.

A piano being hammered joyfully by a man with white hair. People around him clapping and shouting. Close enough to walk to. Far enough to stay away from and still hear. His hands moving fast, though I can't really see them past the piano. Notes and notes and notes.

She asks for money and I look in my hand and I give her a note.

He switches to a faster rhythm, cast iron left hand and lots of blue notes, and three men at the table behind him clap and shout, nodding their heads hard from time to time, fitting in a sip from their glasses, a grin or a word to the one next door.

She's dropped my change on the bar next to me. I remember to turn, say thank you but she's already gone.

And now he's finished, he stands up with the last chord held down, picks up his hands and walks out. Three mouths drain their glasses and hurry after him.

The piano stands there and he hasn't put the lid down. I'm glued to the bar but it looks like the invitation of a lifetime. This really is a special day.

A man walks past me, and I'm staring at the top end of the keyboard. I can see that far without moving.

"D'you want a go?" Is my tongue hanging out? He's heading behind the bar with a load of dirty plates, but he looks me up and down for a second. "So long as you don't empty the place." That's worth a grin ? on both sides. The lunchtime trade has disappeared back to its various shops and offices ? how do I know that? ? and I can see perhaps four people in the whole place, a few more round the corner maybe. "What's your name?"

"David." He nods and leaves me to it. Whoosh! My head swims. Left alone. In control. Of nothing.

There's a problem with pub pianos. Sometimes they get hammered and go out of tune. Sometimes they're so out of tune in the first place that boogie's all you can get away with. As if I know.

I look round. The piano's in its own space so I can walk over and poke at a few nonchalant, one-handed notes before committing myself to a seated position. Sounds pretty good, actually. Octaves are octaves. A glissando sounds clean and all the keys I press down come back up. Running out of excuses.

The only thing available is an ordinary chair, but I don't seem to be wearing my tails today. The glass goes on the posse's table for safety. Middle C boasts a small chip in its front edge, but all other signs point to a well looked-after instrument. And I've come as far as sitting down in public without too much sweat and dread.

Now what can I play? Sweat, sweat, sweat. Today's the day ? a special day ? and somehow there's something even bigger than the fear. A few chords appear from nowhere, and it just feels so good to hear something I'm doing sounding out in a sympathetic space. I relax - you can't relax - you try to relax - the kind of long, slow breath that says all's right with the world for a couple of minutes at least - and find myself moving into a slow G minor blues. Nothing clever, mostly block chords with two note linking phrases. But then clever isn't really an option with my lack of practice. Glad the boogie merchant's moved on.

The great thing about playing on your own is that it doesn't matter when it turns into a fourteen bar blues or you suddenly trail off into a middle eight you've never heard before and have to find a way back so it sounds as if you meant it all along.

The great thing about playing on your own when you're in the mood and sounding convincing and the pub's quiet is that a pint can appear on top of the piano, and that's what happens. The blues is several verses old, so I finish it with a bit of a flourish.

"Thanks." And the manager nods.

"That's to pay for the audition," he says. "Nobody gets more than a pint or two except maybe at the weekends, but if you're any good I'll put you on the list. Try another few while it's quiet." He doesn't hang about for a response, and I'm glad of that, because I could have cried. It's years since I played piano, years since I played anything with any conviction, and here's somebody practically offering me a gig.

Transferring the second pint to the table behind me ? old habits apparently forbid the mixing of liquids and musical instruments ? I raise my hands again, looking at keys between fingers. Traffic noise for a moment, swallowed when the door swings shut ? another couple of people leaving, but I don't take it personally.

It feels like G minor once more, but this time I pull one of the things out of the drawer that I put together for some people I knew all those years ago. The different chorus for verse three trips me up even though I knew it was coming, and I find myself muttering "sorry" to the empty air, but it comes out OK in the end and I cut it short just in case.

Over a few long swallows of beer ? careful to finish the old one first ? I take stock of my repertoire. The cupboard looks pretty bare. How many different tunes can I actually come out with? OK, I have no history in this kind of thing, but those hundreds of hours of heavy rehearsal in darkened rooms have to count for something. And if I keep on feeling this good you never know. Ask me tomorrow, Mum.

To keep things predictable I step off into Famous Blue Raincoat - how old Lennie the C got away with those simple ones always made me laugh. I'm going to need some straightforward practice, but this one seems somehow right for the dispersed light from faraway front windows and 40-watters behind me.

A figure walks past. A woman in jeans, I do register. On the way to the toilets, you have to assume. And I don't miss a beat, which is reassuring. But then my ears pick up a few unwanted details ? a chair dragging, hitting a table ? and I know she's sitting somewhere behind me. Somewhere close. Things get a bit clunky, but there isn't far to go and I manage to finish with a breathy "Sincerely, L. Cohen" before sitting back in the chair, not even wanting to make the half-turn to retrieve my glass, as relaxed as a rock teetering on the edge of a cliff.

"Was that a Tom Fitzgerald song you did before?" she asks at last, and I have to look at her. It's only polite. And she does seem interested.

"Yeah, Train. You know it?"

"He doesn't get a lot of exposure nowadays. Pity." She smiles, but she doesn't look at me, thoughts elsewhere. Young. Late twenties, thirty maybe. Big glasses, short dark hair, slim, square chin and cheeks.

"Before your time, perhaps." Half a second near to panic, then try to banter, but she looks quite sharp when she meets my eyes.

"A bit, but I do have the CDs."

"I used to have the vinyl," I reply softly, and it's my turn to look down.

"Used to? What happened??"

"Not sure where they ended up." She's two tables away, but neither of us makes a move. I sip my rather flat pint to keep that distance between us.

"You done?" The manager appears from the door by the end of the bar.

"Oh, sorry Mike," the woman says quickly. "I interrupted him."

"I'll need to hear more than that before you get any kind of booking. How about a couple more quiet afternoons to prove it?" He's not throwing me out, not that he wants to stay and listen.

"I'll give it a go. It's a while since I played in public." Again, where did that come from? He nods and returns to his duties, which obviously aren't going to include getting me another pint.

"Sorry. Didn't realise you were singing for your supper."

"Just lunch." And I down most of the rest of it. This time she stands up. She's taller than I thought. And strong.

"D'you know any more Fitzgerald?" she asks.

"A few, but I get the impression I might have to stick to the standards in here."

"Oh come on, it's not a piano bar. Nobody knew what Kenny was playing earlier on. Most of those things probably don't even have names."

"I'm just scared people will want to sing along and I won't know the tunes." She looks hard at me.

"I haven't seen you in here before."

"Just trying out some new places ? fed up with the old ones." I'm not going to tell her where I have been. "Gotta go," back to a mutter, draining the last, warm mouthful, standing up.

"Hey," she says with a sudden smile. "Try this one." She takes my place by the piano, and she's doing all the moving, so I'm still shuffling back out of the way when the music starts. Four bars in she looks up at me with a fierce grin, misses the response I'm half-way through thinking about making, returns her concentration to the keyboard. The song's fast and spiky, but it's unmistakeable. Maybe I'm supposed to applaud on recognition. Maybe I'm supposed to fire up one of a herd of lighters across the stadium.

"Wine into Water," I mouth as she comes to the end of the verse, and try to follow the notes. It's hard to play properly from a standing position, but when there's only one chair? And that's a great excuse when you've never really played the song on the piano and only know it in a different key anyway. I can lean over, not too close, pick out a few notes, one finger at a time, giving up at one point, rearing back as if to say why bother. But today I am not going to give up. By the end of the second verse I can do the changes in two-finger chords, but I don't see the chorus coming and she knows it. She turns to me, she sings it and I say it.

"Wine into water? water from the wine"

But playing without an eye on the keyboard doesn't work for her either, and that chorus is just about the end of it. She comes to a dead stop, laughing, and I'm starting to laugh too. I haven't felt that good in years. Years. Years and years.

"When you've quite finished?" Embarrassment strikes. Making a juvenile noise in a public place. I did assume it was the manager, but I know the voice is wrong even before I stand back and turn round to see him ? about my height, heavy eyebrows which go well with the laughing mouth. "She really shouldn't start something she can't finish."

"Look who's talking," the woman laughs back. And I just stand there. "Hey?" Moment past. I just try to catch my breath, maintain vital signs over the turmoil inside. "I'm sorry, but we should have been somewhere else about ten minutes ago. Come again and I'll let you play on your own. We're in most afternoons."

I'm not sure it comes naturally to her, and I certainly didn't ask for it, but she looks me straight in the eye and shakes my hand. Then they've gone. Moments later the door closes behind them.

I take a look about me but there's nothing to see. I have the clothes I stand up in, nowhere to go but no reason to stay. Closing the piano lid ? it's only polite ? I follow them at a less determined pace.

"I know every note Tom Fitzgerald ever played."

"Who's your friend?" Chris asked as they walked back along the main road, a bus growling past. In the rush hour you could end up with the same driver hovering next to you for minutes, slightly in front, slightly behind.

"Dunno. Never seen him before. Probably never will again." She went quiet. With traffic noise washing over them, that might not have been obvious, but they'd been together long enough for him to suspect there might be more. He looked sideways at her, quizzically and very slightly upwards, until she felt forced to acknowledge him with a quick glance and a quicker smile.

"What was it?" he prompted.

"I don't know. That's why I didn't say." They had to cross the road, so no more was said while they wove their way through the streams of traffic. And nothing at all was said while they walked down the side street and round the corner. Chris knew he could wait if he had to.

Over the mantelpiece and the fire that never burns hangs Mum's birthday card. Nailed to the wall with the spike of the joke badge. 50 today! I love her dearly, but I am not going to find that funny, and anyway I found another way to feel better today. Keep challenging me Mum.

I went to the pub, and why would I do that? Some of Jo's people might say I can't be trusted in a drinking establishment, but the person I turned out to be in there seemed quite reasonable, even brought back a few safe memories ? as safe as a visit to the Late Shop.

Where's that cheque? Mum's birthday present that liberated my last tenner for a couple of drinks. And won another pint when I dared to sit down and play.

In the bin with the envelope? On the wall with another nail through it? On the table with all the other crap from the last week or so? Ah, yes, that's right. So much more sensible. Now all I have to do is get it to the bank somehow.



As soon as possible.

Just do it.

Not like some of the others. The ones I used to hold up in front of my eyes until the calendar clicked over to six-months-gone-and-now-it's-worthless.

Going out again? That's nothing new. Only twice so far today.

All dressed up too. I took all that time getting ready this morning. Ah, the world is just so lucky. Can I get to the bank before it shuts? Now, where's my card? Can I manage to string it out until tomorrow?

She shook my hand.

They'd spent a couple of hours discussing a project with a potential client, and they had to pass the pub on the way home anyway. As they approached the narrow doors she stopped for a moment and pressed her cheek against his.

"Afternoon Tam, Chris. What kept you away so long?" The man behind the bar grinned and took down two glasses.

"We did miss you Mike." Chris walked up, taking out his wallet. She moved out slightly to the right, looking down towards the piano.

"Our mysterious visitor left just after you," said the manager as Tam rejoined them. "I'm not sure we'll see him again." She frowned, and still said nothing until they found their usual table on the other side. She took a sip from her pint, then shook her head.

"Sorry, Mike's probably right. No need to worry about the guy." She sat back and looked at Chris properly.

"Not like our job," he teased. "We can't do all the work in here." And she laughed, raised her glass as a toast.

"Quite right. Let's go home and earn some money. I'll just finish this one." She sat back. There was just something about that man. Something unfinished.

I'm back, been back a while, and nothing's changed in the room. I've been watching.

Here I am still, Mum, and I don't need to turn you to the wall any more. I've been to the shop, and this time I got there before the kids, so they couldn't even try to waylay me, get me to buy them cider. All this is for me, and there was enough left to get an extra birthday bottle. And I'll get that cheque in tomorrow morning, don't you worry.

Things are getting better.

You've been living my life for me

And what have you left for me?

Where did you hide it?

And can I have the key?

David always started Wine into Water with a tease. An old fashioned tease, the whole band facing the back of the stage. Like a soul group poised to jump round and launch into some dance routine. Or Roxy Music circa '72, but they didn't have the routines, so they were much more like his band, like Dancer, like him.

He'd crank the amp up high and touch a string with the guitar turned right down, then tweak it up with his little finger round the volume knob until the note sounded and drew feedback from the speaker. And right down to zero again while the amp still reverberated. And then the next note ? strike, twist the knob, let it sound and begin screeching, back to zero. And the next note ? strike, twist, sound to screech, zero. And the next.

Twice through the intro phrase, then Turk joined in on a similar feedback technique. His bass took longer to start singing, so David could set his stuff back to normal, face front and scrub out a couple of chords. Then Turk turned round and joined him, and they both paused while Pat in the shadows opened the verse proper on piano.

Why did they bother? Was it just to stack up a repeat sequence for David to dream about in later life? Rehearsing and rehearsing and rehearsing those first few seconds, because they didn't dance (despite the name) and they weren't theatrical (despite the pretensions), but it just seemed like a good idea (at the time). And now he kept going through the rehearsal and rehearsal and rehearsal with the verse beyond his reach more often than not.

But sometimes he heard Danny's low-down vocals?

Wine into water

And sometimes he could hear Turk's high harmony?

That's the way it goes

And always he felt himself trying to push out the lead...

Just like we all know

And then all three of them, except that his line was swallowed and choking...

Water from the wine

Sometimes it ended in chaos ? the dream, that was, not the song, because they were actually quite proficient all those years ago ? and sometimes it just rewound to the rehearsal and rehearsal and rehearsal sequence. And sometimes David would wake up staring and clutching his throat because there would never be a voice in there. Ever again.

Hello morning. Here we go again.

But it's different now. I'm doing things. Since yesterday.

What time is it? There's a clock in here, but I've probably put it in the fridge again.

I have to go and play the piano somewhere.

Everything is fuzzy. That's what cider is for.

Everything is easy. That's what lying down is for.

But it's different now. I'm doing things.

Who says?

I don't know, but it happened.

It just happened. Yesterday. I played the piano, and nobody laughed.

I cringed, I worried, but I played, and two people listened, maybe three.

More might have heard, but two people listened, maybe three.

And I promised to go back. Christ!

I promised to go back, but it doesn't have to be today. It might not even be open today. Of course it is.

It doesn't have to be today, but things are different now. I'm doing things.

Who says? That woman. She knew my songs. She knew FitzGerald's songs. She shook my hand. She played even worse than me, but I nearly caught up. I want to see her again. But she's probably run away.

Out of bed. Do I need to wash? No, that was yesterday. Follow the path to Command Central, then into the kitchen, skipping the fourth step to avoid the creak.

A banana. What a surprise. That'll do. Where did I learn to play the piano? It was something to do with a sweet shop. Out of school. Go and buy a penny something and then hide it when you knock on the next door down the street. And into the dark hall and the musty-smelling back room and the scales, the scales, and the endless, patient harangue.

Back to Command Central, but there's nothing on this morning ? I kind of know that ? so the banana will have to do.

I could never see the clock, and when she told me to play quavers I thought it was dividing the time up so that it would take twice as long, and when she told me to play minims I thought it was stretching the time out so that it would take twice as long. And it always took at least twice as long.

And sometimes I got to my own front gate before I remembered the penny something in my pocket, so it was wasted.

Even worse, it had to be hidden, and sometimes even thrown away.

The card on the wall.

The card on the wall tells me.

I got a card.

I got a cheque, some money. And I can't say no. But I can't spend it, even though I've already spent some of it, until I do something with it. Get it to the bank.

Today, because things have changed. I'm doing things.

Fuzzy, unshaved, and ? sniff ? not too bad, but I'm doing things, for whatever reason.

Take the path to the door, then back because I've forgotten something.

The cheque. My keys are OK. I never take them off.

When Chris left for work, Tam had plenty to do. And she knew she'd end up doing it in the wrong order. Never mind clearing up after breakfast: the real question was how long she'd manage to work on the real brief, the one which might bring in some real money, the one which might build their reputation so that Chris could stop going out six half-days a week to sell computer crap and they could build a real living out of what they did well enough.

But that would come later because it had to, and because there was only so much time she could spend on the Betsy website. Try as she might? And it was just because it was the band she could have been a member of. Partly because they were no better than she was and partly because she'd had the opportunity and the invitation.

She had an mp3 of one of their choruses and she was trying to make it into a fanfare, a sound to greet every visitor, and not so big it might sometimes be delayed. Chris thought the quality was too bad, that the file would always be too big because of the squelch and fuzz, not because of the music. And he was probably right, but that was no reason to admit it.

But before the breakfast things, before the real brief, before even Betsy, she took out her phone. It was too easy to take a picture when nobody was watching. It was too easy to take the wrong picture ? you can't check or people do notice ? but this one wasn't bad.

David was sallow, almost dirty, as if he didn't like the sun a lot. Nearly old enough to be her dad, with a half-decent haircut a few weeks past its sell-by date. Nothing clothes and nothing eyes, but a spark somewhere, bursting to get out. Just like Tom FitzGerald. Ha!

As it happened, Tam felt quite justified as she pushed open the stupidly narrow door and made her way to the bar. She ignored the banter from Mike, whose backup staff didn't always get in this early, and took her pint over to the usual corner. One table was for the drink, but she pulled another two round and sat between them, laying out the contents of her battered portfolio.

She knew she had about half an hour to get the best out of what was left of her morning and her brain. And there was about five thousand quid riding on this one, and there were contacts and extensions and all those sexy little concepts nibbling at her ankles. But stop it. There was work to do.

You can always justify the big black pen by saying that you want the client to see the raw stuff you've been working on. And see it from the other side of the room. And understand it because it's bloody good. But then you need the big black pen when you're working on bar tables and you can never be certain that there isn't a pernicious pool of something which might soak through and screw up smaller lettering.

And ANYWAY, I'VE ALWAYS BEEN A CAPITALS KIND OF GIRL, she thought, but didn't write.

This time. This time we'll get the contract, not just the job. We'll get our names on it and people will notice. We've got the storyboard. All I have to do is polish the big message phrases and rough out the detailed pitch. Then it's death by Powerpoint.

Get on with it.

The half hour had stretched productively by at least 50%, but now things were starting to peter out. Tam slid out from her office, realising for the first time that the pub was filling up, though her corner had not yet been invaded. She waved a finger at Bernice behind the bar, then gathered her papers into something like the right order before going to pick up her second pint.

"Hi, David." Somebody talking. People do that all the time. Keep an eye on people coming the other way. Keep your hand on your keys.

"David!" Somebody talking to me. People do that all the time too. But they're not supposed to know my name. There's a wall here. I'll stand against it so I can see what's coming. "You must have been miles away."

No? I'm here. It's the woman ? I recognise her ? from the pub. The one who knows FitzGerald. "...hello." She's been running.

"I was wondering when we'd hear you on the piano again. You haven't been around the last few days."

"Haven't got any money." That's the easy excuse. Can't say how much that day took out of me, how much I've fallen back on familiar ways. Can't say it even to me. "Not until Mu? my cheque comes through"

"I could?" and I can see she's going to offer me a drink, but she thinks better of it. She looks at me all the time ? even when I'm not looking at her ? and now she tightens her eyes. "What are you up to today?" She stands back slightly, which is better. Somebody bustles between us with a grunt of some sort, which isn't.

"Shopping..." Ah, yes. "Once I know the money's cleared... Nothing much..."

"Tell you what," she says, ready to move on, "we'll be having a drink about half four ? I'm meeting my husband after work. Drop in if you like. There might be enough quiet time for a couple of songs." And she's gone, the same way as me, but she doesn't have to step away from the wall, check that the way is safe.

Touch my keys ? I always do that ? check the plastic card's in the right pocket, but I have to do it twice because I don't feel right

"Chris!" She waved as he came in, shook her head to say she didn't need a refill, and waited. She could see from the way he stood at the bar that he wasn't in the greatest of moods. He hadn't even taken his tie off. As he walked towards her his face was in shadow, the sunlight from the front windows forming a short-lived halo around him.

"What you doing over here?" he asked as he sat down on the bench next to her. She kissed his cheek, slipped her hands across to loosen the offending neck wear, almost said she'd just wanted a change.

"I met David ? the dodgy piano man. He hasn't been back ? I checked with Mike ? so I invited him down." Chris groaned and pushed his head back against the wall.

"So this isn't just a quick drink after work. We'll be waiting all night for your bloody boyfriend." She looked at him sharply, but he kept his eyes on the opposite wall.

"He's not my boyfriend." She waited ? in vain ? for a reaction. "And if he's not here in half an hour or so I won't be bothering again." Chris put his glass down, pulled his tie over his head, stuffed it in his jacket pocket.

"There is something about him though, isn't there?" he asked with a grin that took a bit of an effort.

"You should have seen him." Her own focus shifted to the table in front of them. "He was so scruffy ? not dirty?" she turned back to Chris. "?just as if he puts the same clothes on every day."

"So he's another sad man. Is he worth saving?" This smile was real, and searching.

"I'm not about to join the Sally Army, but you heard him on the piano."

"He was adequate."

"At least adequate, and I don't think he'd touched a keyboard for a long time." She could tell that Chris was waiting, not responding, drawing her out if he could be bothered with even that much. "And that day he'd made an effort, he looked OK, it was special."

"OK, I'll forget the boyfriend idea ? though you do have form?" Their eyes met again. He grinned. Easier this time, easing down. She looked away, cheeks burning around her own weak smile. "And the charitable view? You want somebody exotic for your new little band, don't you?" That was enough. Tam could draw a line here.

"In a way. But I'm impatient? in case you hadn't noticed." He nodded. "And one thing this guy does not exhibit is a sense of urgency. If he suddenly turns out to be brilliant and simpatico I'll be interested. Otherwise it's just one more to put down to lack of experience."

Tam faced front, held her pint glass, let the conversation fade. The front door opened and closed, letting in a sharp moment of traffic noise. A voice ordering Guinness intruded on the hum of the air conditioning and the dribs and drabs of thinly spread conversation. In most ways she was glad Chris had turned up first ? she didn't want to lose him from her side even in something as peripheral as this ? but it did mean giving up some of her sense of control.

The door creaked again and there stood David, holding it open too long, drawing attention to himself. The same halo effect, and he had a different air about him now ? somewhere short of determination, but intention at least. Tam watched him approach the bar, wait for Bernice to come over, order a pint, fumble the change. And she was aware that Chris kept his eyes straight ahead, took a sip, declined to join in.

"David!" At least he'd seen them. "You remember Chris?" There might have been a brief meeting of eyes and the slightest of nods from either side. The newcomer took in the fact that he would have to sit on a loose stool, looked quickly to right and left, put his pint down and shifted the stool round the table as close to the bench as he could get it, which meant he was sitting next to her. Chris noticed this at least, but Tam was sure that wasn't the reason for the movement. David now had his back covered by the piano, and he could see most of the other angles. It was disturbing to see such nervousness.

"Everything OK at the bank then?" she started again.

"Yeah," into his glass. Tam was rapidly moving over to Chris's estimation of the situation, but she'd set it up, so she'd go with it a few more minutes at least.

"You going to play again? I checked with Mike. It's OK."

"Maybe." He still addressed the beer, even when it was on the table. "I haven't got a lot worked out on piano."

"But you like playing." He looked at her.

"...Yeah." It looked as if he had to admit that to himself.

"So work them out here. I'm sure Mike would let you do that in the quiet times. If he thinks you're serious about it." And those eyes went down again at the hardening of the tone. "You must have one more." This had to be sounding a bit forced, she thought, but he wouldn't have come down if he didn't want to play. It wasn't her body he was after, she was quite sure, and now he was nearly ready to stand up.

She took the lead, and they walked round to the piano. He lifted the lid and she stood back to invite him to sit. And he did. She found a chair a bit behind him, out of his space but so he knew where she was, saw him lift his hands onto the keyboard.

"White notes only this time," he muttered and started a slow, metronomic left hand, adding cascading chords, lots of notes, filling in the gaps so it would have sounded wrong if he played them all together. It was long for an introduction and then he played it again, almost the same, just a few extra twiddles at the top, and then he stopped.

"I don't know that one," she coaxed, and he didn't turn round.

"You wouldn't. It doesn't sound like much without the vocal."

"So do the vocal."

"I don't do singing any more." He paused, then "Middle eight," and he struck up a little riff in the right hand which went with a descending line in the left and ended with a rousing set of chords which might have been a little loud for the manager's liking but were tuneful and well played for all that. "Ah sod it," said David, reaching back for his pint, taking a long mouthful.

But he put it down without a word, and started again ? a rising sequence of notes which suddenly morphed into an old Kinks song ? Days ? which was perfect, because the tune rides along the top of the backing anyway. The verses went easily, but she saw his fingers tracing out some extra notes as he worked out the chords for the middle section.

"Nice one," came a shout from the bar when it came to an end, and Tam saw David's neck flush. She decided to take a chance, stood up, looked over his shoulder.

"Have you ever played that before?"

"Probably, when we were messing about. I told you ? I haven't got much worked out for piano."

"Guitar's your thing." He looked up at last, but his eyes were wide, alarmed.

"What d'you mean?"

"Your nails?" She was bewildered. It was obvious. He was staring at his hands, left hand nails cut really short, right hand nails longer.

"No?" And he said it to himself. And he stood up, looked around as if to work out where he was, walked out without a word.

"That guy is hard work," observed Chris, peering round the end of the piano.

"I can't disagree," and she put the lid down on the piano, something she'd never thought of doing before.

"Maybe brilliant," her husband continued. "But simpatico??" She shook her head slowly.

Why did she have to say that? After I tidied myself up and thought of something to play.

David's right index finger crept to his mouth as he walked along beside the stinking white noise of the non-stop traffic. His teeth closed on the nail but he couldn't do it. One hand swept to his neck ? check keys ? and the other to his pocket ? check cash ? and he made his way home.